I've spent most of the past 30 years working in independent large-size womenswear, and I had my own plus-size retail business for 22 years. To achieve a perfect result each time we fitted every one of our customers, altering more than half of all the fashion we sold. So I have undertaken many thousands of fittings, gathering so many measurements that it's hard to estimate their number.
During these fittings there was a friendly, fun atmosphere; it was cool, comfortable and private. We had a laugh, but when customers knew that I was trying to perfect their clothes, they realised that this was a serious business.
Our customers were usually stunned by the results of having clothing specially tailored, and many of them wrote to us in gratitude: Emma Plus testimonials.
I love accuracy and fit, but I have no respect for the measurements and sizes that can cause stress. I don't care what size a person takes, and I am passionately against any kind of sizeist hierarchy. Every generation has its own preferred fit: today's young girls have their own style, and it was our job to 'get' people.
Now I have moved into a new exciting arena that of e-commerce fitting. This is something that someone like me... an old timer who has had decades of hands-on experience of larger bodies... needs to embrace to help solve the dreadful fit problems that have plagued this young branch of the fashion industry. It's my opportunity to take the inequality, embarrassment, inconvenience, waste, frustration, disappointment, irritation and expense of buying plus-size clothing online and do my bit to help solve these problems, once and for all.
The good news is that it will soon be possible to accommodate women of every size from 'mainstream' to plus-size in e-commerce, with fashion that fits just as beautifully as I was able to achieve in a bricks-and-mortar store. In the meantime, while we are perfecting the AI fitting that will give us the fashion we deserve, in the styles and fits that suit our needs, I may be coming to somewhere near you.
I am part of a team tasked with finding out the sizes and shapes of plus-size womenswear customers. So, should our paths cross, if you are a larger woman, I may ask you if I can record some of your measurements.
I promise that it will be a perfectly pleasant experience, that it will be over in a jiffy, and that we will have a bit of a laugh even though it's a serious matter. We have a job to do to there are few things more serious than the business of getting gorgeous clothes for ourselves. I'm hoping that you will help.
I really enjoyed taking part in my first webinar with Kimberley Carr (above left) of Rakuten Fits Me yesterday.
For the uninitiated, a webinar is a seminar held online. I've been a viewer before, but this was my first experience of presenting one of these events. As I sat down at the desk I was thinking about a webinar that I attended last year, presented by Paul Pallin, the Development Director at Rakuten Fits Me. The subject, of course, was my favourite... it was all about bodyshape and fit.
Even though I've been in the bodyshape, fit and customer service business all my professional life, there were several seminal moments in his talk (quite appropriate for a seminar, after all). One that will live with me until my dying day was when Paul showed images of women who did not have 'standard' bodyshapes (i.e. their hips and bust may be a size 10, but the waist was a size 8, or their bust and waist was a size 12, but their hips were a size 10). While they were on screen he asked what we noticed about these images. Actually, it was nothing at all... which was rather the point.
These women's figures (they were computer generated, so no models were hurt in the making of the talk) were perfectly normal looking even beautiful and aspirational. Paul made the point that should have been obvious. These bodies looked normal, because they were normal. It's far more usual to see figures that do not fit into the classic standardised sizing that our clothes are made to. They are the shapes that we all see in the real world.
As I sat down at the desk yesterday I aspired to give similar revelations to my audience it never hurts to aim high! I'm lucky in that the subject I was talking about (the webinar was entitled 'Womenswear Sizing: Consistency versus Diversity') is one that involves every person I know... why is it so difficult to find well-fitting clothes and what is being done about it?
As a fashion professional for over 30 years I have attended so many fashion fairs that I can no longer count them. These fairs more accurately trade shows are where the independent side of the industry comes together to do business. It's not something that the public sees, and most people have no idea they even exist.
Such fairs take place in every country that has any kind of notable fashion industry so we see them in Paris, Milan, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Amsterdam and, of course, London. My usual haunts were the German fairs, because it was there that I had access to as many plus-size designer ranges as I could ever want. However, over the years I have been to many elsewhere as well.
These shows have various aspects in common. The first is that they are big CPD occupies a huge exhibition space in Düsseldorf, Germany, for example, and in the UK the shows usually take place at Excel, Olympia or the NEC.
They contain stands displaying the next season's fashions, complete with samples and the ordering paraphernalia necessary to run one of the world's most important industries. Buyers and agents walk swiftly or huddle over tablets time is money in this environment and business has to be transacted quickly.
At the heart of each of these fairs is the catwalk. It often runs down the centre of the space, and the music from catwalk shows can be heard across the hall. Models stride out wearing the samples time travellers from the future, telling us what we will be wearing in a year or so.
In between the catwalk shows, the runway is given over to the seminars. This is where senior fashion insiders offer their insight, experience, knowledge and ideas to fellow professionals. It's considered a mark of respect to be invited to give one of these presentations, and they are always good value. Despite having a million other things to do at a show, I have often taken time to sit-in on seminar programmes, as I've found they offer fascinating information and thought-provoking perceptions.
So when I was invited to give a seminar in August at the UK's premier fashion show Moda which takes place twice yearly at the NEC in Birmingham, I was very honoured. As a bodyshape and fit expert I am now working with the leading e-commerce fit experts, Rakuten Fits Me, and I was excited by the opportunity to talk about fit issues to fashion professionals.
In the past apparel was sold through bricks-and-mortar stores and customers were able to try on clothing before making their purchases. Now more and more transactions are happening online, and suddenly without being able to 'try-before-you-buy' fit issues have become huge news. One significant problem is the level of returns generated by the current somewhat hit-and-miss method of buying clothes online.
We need to use all the available expertise in bodyshape, fit, garment technology and online technology to move into the next phase of fashion retail. The opportunities are fantastic. This is already a very positive story, and I was delighted to get the opportunity to talk to Moda about it.